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HomeNewsLocal newsFrom a Work in Progress, A Scenic North Side Farm

From a Work in Progress, A Scenic North Side Farm

Bananas grow on Hideaway Farm. (Source photo by Judi Shimel)

On the North Side of St. Thomas, a few feet from the boat ramp and the annual spot for a celebrated fishing match is a lush landscape filled with broad banana leaves, palm fronds, fruit trees, herbs, and veggies. The owners of that picturesque scene say that Hideaway Farm, as it appears today, is what they have to show after seven years of hard work.

This week, farm founder Lee Steiner invited about 100 guests to visit the property and tour the farm, which some have called a mini resort of cottages, complete with a swimming pool and a simple white pavilion with a bar.

Steiner, a graduate of Antilles School, said he locked onto the idea of creating Hideaway Farm to transition away from the real estate business. His wife liked the surroundings and the sense of peace she got from being there.

That was the easy decision leading to a first step in 2017. In the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, 200 shattered coconut trees waited for cleanup. When that was done, about seven remained standing.

Late in the afternoon, before guests to the Jan. 30 open house started to appear, Steiner led a quickie tour of the revitalized space, first to the latest feature, a retention pond. The pond helps control the amount of sediment running downhill after heavy rains, he said, adding he was surprised at the amount of dredging it took to clear it all away.

Then came the part he seemed to relish the most — a stroll through the fruit tree grove. He pointed to them, one by one — five varieties of bananas, coconut, guava, lime, soursop, mango, cherry, gooseberry and more. In the shade among them and at the ground level, two rows of pineapple tops sprouted slim leaves.

Then came the coffee plant, where Steiner stopped to caress a leaf. It was proof that in farming, as well as in life, you just can’t win them all. “We’ve been able to harvest and roast enough coffee beans to brew one pot of coffee. Maybe next year we’ll have two,” he said.

The whole enterprise is a work in progress, he said. The former real estate professional said his experience at Hideaway Farm gave him a genuine respect for local farmers. “Being a farmer’s tough because you’re getting attacked from all angles all the time — the birds from the sky, the flying insects, the iguanas from the ground, deer from the ground, the lack of water, too much water; it’s just always something,” he said.

But with the help of the farm’s 30 employees, somehow — he said — it all works from day to day.

Some of the trees were brought over from St. Croix, he said. Some had settled in well enough for the chef at the Farm-to-Table restaurant to offer them as specialty sides to the Taste of the Farm breakfast menu.

By then, the tour meandered over to the cottages and a tranquil swimming pool surrounded by a wooden deck. Steiner said he didn’t consider Hideaway Farm a mini resort, although he heard some people call it one.

He said adding accommodations was done as a way to show other farmers what could be done to bring in revenue while weathering farmer’s ups and downs.

Two beachfront villas and eight beachside cottages have become a popular staycation spot for locals, he said. Much of the business for the cottages so far has been destination wedding parties. About twenty-five percent of those are local families.

Also, visiting and building communities, there are student groups for occasional tours and University of the Virgin Islands students working on a mangrove restoration project.

Guided tours are available through the farm’s reservations agent or the farm’s official website. Through them, visitors can find out more about sustainable practices, wildlife encounters, and more.

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